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Its Pratibha Patil
T.R Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, June 14
In a historic move and after some rapid fire confabulations throughout the day to hammer out a consensus, the Congress-led UPA and the Left parties zeroed in on Rajasthan Governor Pratibha Devisingh Patil as their nominee for the high office of President.

Though this is not the first time that a member of the fair sex will take part in the Presidential poll, but, if Patil wins she will have the unique distinction of being the first woman to occupy the imposing Rashtrapati Bhawan on the Raisina Hill. Capt Lakshmi Sehgal had unsuccessfully contested the Presidential poll as a Left nominee against President A P J Abdul Kalam in 2002.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi made the announcement at the official Race Course residence of the Prime Minister here this evening emphasising that we will have a woman President for the first time in 60 years of indpendence. It is a moment of great pride for the country.

Ending the confusion and ringing down the discussions on the UPA's nominee for the highest constitutional office in the country, Gandhi stressed there was unanimity in the choice and expressed her gratitude to the allies and partners of the ruling coalition at the Centre. In the discussions, she said it was agreed that the UPA's nominee will be supported by the Left parties.

In an aside to mediapersons, union agriculture minister and NCP chief Sharad Pawar observed that the battle for the President's office is between two Shekhawats, referring to Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat throwing his hat in the ring as an independent backed by the NDA. That is interesting as Pratibha Devisingh Patil's spouse's name is Devisingh Ramsingh Shekhawat.

The way the scene shifted in finalising the Congress nominee for the President's post was not without drama. In the morning Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.Karunanidhi and the Left leaders CPI-M's Prakash Karat and CPI's A B Bardhan - held fort. The Left leaders held firm that they cannot endorse the name of union home minister Shivraj Patil, union power minister Sushil Kumar Shinde or senior Congressman and ICCR Chairman Karan Singh for the post of President. All three leaders failed to meet the parameters set by them for being the country's First Citizen.

At one point Karunanidhi had virtually thrown in the towel for failing to bring round the Left as he had made it clear that the DMK will support the nominee of the Congress without any reservations.

In the afternoon with no agreement on a name emerging, Gandhi is believed to have thrown up the idea of having a woman as the country's 13th President. The message was carried to Karunanidhi and the Left leaders by Gandhi's political secretary Ahmed Patel. It is at this juncture that everyone saw a ray of hope and the logjam being broken.

The names of Pratibha Devisingh Patil, who was appointed as Governor of Rajasthan in 2004 and Gandhian Nirmala Deshpande were brought on the table. Agreement veered around 73-year-old Pratibha Devisingh Patil who hails from Maharashtra and has been Deputy Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha as well as a minister in her home state.

Even though Pawar's NCP had mouthed support to whosoever the Congress nominee might be, his meeting with the Left leaders brought to the fore his antipathy towards Shivraj Patil who had been the front runner till it was decided to field a woman for the President's post. Clearly, Shivraj Patil's elevation as the First Citizen could have had an adverse impact for Pawar and the NCP in Maharashtra. It is, therefore, not without significance when Pawar noted meaningfully that the fight for Rashtrapati Bhawan is between two Shekhawats implying the leaders in the fray literally hailed from the desert state of Rajasthan.

Clearly, the Left made its point that without a consensus on the nominee for President in a coalition arrangement it becomes an exercise in futility. Some of their leaders threatened that if the Congress decides to bash on regardless, they might have to reconsider their support to the government from outside. There was also discernible resentment on the part of the DMK and to some extent in the Left that Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati and BSP chief was being patronised. Apparently, all this was posturing in the run up to the 2009 general elections.

All that must necessarily take a backseat now as the electoral college for the Presidential poll comprises members of the two Houses of Parliament and the state legislatures. The support of the Left parties and the BSP was crucial to get a nominee of the UPA ensconced in the erstwhile Viceregal Lodge.

The UPA-Left meeting appealed to all political parties and members of the electoral college to extend support to elect Patil as the first woman President of the country.

With the ups and downs in evolving a consensus on the nominee of the Congress for the President's post wrapped up, the BJP-led NDA as well the Third Front of certain regional parties will unfold their strategy though it is unlikely to throw up any surprises.

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